- Religion and Philosophy
27. Faith Challenges in Prison
Faith Challenges in Prison
Faith Challenges in Prison is the continuation in a series of hubs in which I discuss my life of rebellion, dabbling in the Occult, drugs, crime and prison to life-changing conversion through Jesus Christ. Click here to read it from the beginning. In this hub, I will discuss some challenges of being a Christian in prison.
Divisions within Christianity and other religions made it challenging to be a Christian in federal prison. It wasn’t like that as much in Santa Rita County Jail. There, Christians were more unified. It may be because most of them were new converts to the faith and hadn’t had time to develop dividing boundaries between different denominations. People didn’t call themselves Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, or Seventh-day Adventists. However, federal prison was another story.
In Lompoc FCI, inmates were serving long sentences. I personally knew guys that were serving up to 30 years. Some of them had done some or most of their time, as well. What’s more, some of them were Christians. That being said, they had adopted certain doctrines that caused divisions with other denominations.
There were numerous Christian denominations in Lompoc FCI. Some of which included Pentecostals, Apostolics, the Church of Christ, Non-denominational Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and my favorite, Seventh-day Adventists. They were all into recruiting inmates into their faith. This means that they were always criticizing one another (they had to convince inmates their religion was the best one to join, somehow). I developed a thick skin as a result of all of the criticism I experienced as an Adventist Christian.
It was kind of a sad, really; because not only did Christians receive criticism from secular inmates, they were criticizing each other as well. This happens outside of prison too. I think this gives many people a distaste for Christianity. In my opinion, we should all become Seventh-day Adventists and the problem would be solved (smile).
I received a lot of criticism from Protestants after becoming a Seventh-day Adventist (maybe because I was attending their services at the time). I found that to be quite a paradox, since the SDA Church is closer in their theology to Protestantism as preached by the reformers than any other professed Protestant church today. Protestants would see me reading Adventist literature on my rack sometimes and tell me that it contained false doctrines. This happened when I was reading the 28 Fundamentals of Adventism. However, I found everything I read to be amazingly in line Scripture.
I also often heard that E.G. White (one of the founders of Adventism) was a false prophet that predicted Jesus would return in 1844, which is not true. I am convinced that she possessed the genuine gift of prophecy; and she never even made such a prediction. It was William Miller who made that prediction. He was a Baptist lay minister. He never even joined the SDA Church; although, after the disappointment of his failed prediction, some of his followers became Seventh-day Adventists.
Blessing in Disguise
I really had to dig deep into the Word of God in order to be able to defend my beliefs against constant attacks. Other Protestants often challenged me on Adventist beliefs about salvation, the Sabbath, the state of the dead, the Bible’s dietary restrictions, the gift of tongues, etc. However, I am glad that I had that experience because it confirmed me in my faith. Now I am closer to God and His Word.
The prison atmosphere also helped me with my walk with Jesus because inmates are judgmental of others who say they are Christians. I’m not going to say that I was perfect; but I was definitely walking a fine line. As a Christian in prison, if you do something wrong than someone is always quick to point you out— loudly and in front of many people. The devil is active in prison. God is really active in turning prisoners to Christ; but the devil is active in discouraging them through criticism.
The prison chaplain wasn’t much help to me, either. Especially when it came to getting material for my church group that contradicted his beliefs. The prison had a policy that no material or inmate was allowed to criticize other religions. That made it easy for the chaplain to deny me fundamental Adventist DVDs and books that were contrary to what he was preaching in the chapel; and that is exactly what he did. It was practically forced Ecumenism.
The prison rule to not criticize other religions is also a violation of America’s constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech. Not to mention, it is impossible to equally uphold, because all denominations and religions say things that could be considered derogatory towards one another. Therefore, the only people that kind of rule benefits are those who are in the majority. The Adventist presence was very small in Lompoc FCI; so when there was a controversy between our beliefs and the beliefs of mainline Christianity (the Christian majority), guess who’s material was disposed of and who’s voice was censored? Ours, of course.
Nevertheless, God made a way for our Adventist Church group to get some of the materials the chaplain was restricting. One time, our local church donated a seminar series to the chapel for our group in prison to watch. Usually, the chaplain would review the DVDs to determine which ones were “appropriate” for us to watch. Any DVDs he deemed inappropriate, he would remove and return to our local church volunteer. He always took about three or four DVDs whenever we got a set of about 27.
This time, however, an assistant chaplain was on duty; and he didn’t even bother to review our DVDs. He said, “Just go ahead and take them.” I also found a way around the restriction on our books. You see, the chapel wouldn’t accept them; but I discovered I could get them sent to me through the regular mail without a problem. They had a different screening process. Therefore, I would get them through the regular mail and share them with other inmates; or I would put them in the chapel library.
Cat and Mouse Game
When our “restricted” literature was discovered in the chapel library, it would get disposed of. There was one book that the chaplain was particularly against: The Great Controversy, by E.G. White. I thought that book was excellent! Without it, I would not have learned many life-changing biblical truths. It taught me a lot about the love and power of God, church history and Bible prophecy. The chaplain didn’t like it because it identified the papacy (office of the popes) of the Roman Catholic Church as the antichrist power of Scripture (although that’s what the Protestant Reformers believed and taught). He didn’t want the Catholics getting offended (not to mention, the head chaplain was a Catholic); so out with that book.
The chaplain even warned me a few times that having that book was a threat to the security of the prison, and that I could end up going to the hole over it. I disregarded his threat. I could only imagine what that would have looked like on paper: “Sent to solitary confinement for possession of Christian literature.” However, I’m sure he would have found a more creative way or wording it; although, that’s what it really would have amounted to.
Nevertheless, I kept receiving Christian literature, sharing it with people and putting it in the prison chapel (when the chaplain wasn’t looking). He threw some of it away every once in a while; but then eventually it seemed like he got tired of doing so; so it remained there for longer periods of time and more people read it.
Being a Christian in federal prison had its challenges for me. There was criticism from without and within Christianity as a whole, and forces worked against my church group to limit our resources and suppress our voice. Nevertheless, it worked out to my benefit by drawing me nearer to God and confirming me in my faith. You have to be careful what you pray for. Sometimes, when you ask God for a closer relationship with Him, He allows adversity in you life to answer your prayer.
I was pretty heavy into ministry in prison. I also conducted one-on-one Bible studies and ministered to inmates on the yard. I have some intriguing stories about that. I will discuss them in my next hub.